8 December 2023

The international student who relied only on God

The Reverend Lydia Thangadurai. Picture: Jenan Taylor

Jenan Taylor

19 November 2022

Every Friday Lydia Thangadurai and her six siblings would gather in a circle around their mother in their small, rented home in Bangalore, India and learn a passage from the Bible.

By the time they were teenagers they had a good knowledge of the Scriptures.

Their mother also told them that God was the only one they could ever rely on.

Set to become a priest on 26 November, Ms Thangadurai said her mother’s words resonated with her, particularly when she left India to study in Australia in 2006.  

“That was the foundation that I have grown up with and that’s what helped me survive here,” she said.

Ms Thangadurai had two goals: to get a qualification so that she could earn enough money to help her parents build their own house, and to learn how to help her youngest brother Thomas, who lived with a disability, to thrive.

Now an assistant curate at St John’s Toorak, she recalls that those years as an international student were largely clouded by loneliness, and onerous visa requirements that often left her penniless.

She also pined for her family.

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But the thought of her mother and father’s unswerving trust in God, and of Thomas’s needs, often made Ms Thangadurai swallow her despair and renew her determination.

During one particularly hard period she found St Paul’s Cathedral and would go and sit quietly there before and after long workdays at a fast-food outlet.

“I was always in the last pew, not engaging with anyone usually because I was too tired,” Ms Thangadurai said. “But I felt safe, like I was in a circle sitting around my mother’s feet.”

She took along a work colleague who after a while suggested they attend the cathedral’s morning teas.

Gradually Ms Thangadurai became involved with the cathedral, eventually becoming an altar server, lay deacon, and verger.

She also made several friends among the clergy, lay assistants, and congregants.

“Church became a big family for me, because everybody was just so carefree. I felt like I fitted in,” she said.

But Ms Thangadurai continued to struggle with the visa system and one day learned that her case was eligible for ministerial intervention.

Although her peers warned that few requests for ministerial consideration were successful, Ms Thangadurai listened to her heart. “I was relying on God, not the minister,” she said.

The help of her newfound friends enabled Ms Thangadurai to obtain a visa extension.

Through the generosity of anonymous donors she was also able to pursue an opportunity to study at Ridley College.

“It was like something that had been weighing on me lifted and left,” Ms Thangadurai said.

Read more: From prison officer to deacon: Xeverie set for next step in journey with God

She also discovered that she could realise her dream to help people with disabilities through ministering to them and became involved in one such program.

It wasn’t long before she was encouraged to consider exploring discernment.

Beset by continuous visa requirements Ms Thangadurai almost didn’t go through with the discernment process, until a mentor at Ridley insisted she continue.

The night before the selection interview she dreamt that her mentor was anointing her with oil and telling her that God would take care of her situation.

Buoyed by that dream Ms Thangadurai went into the interviews without giving a moment’s thought to her visa status problems for the first time in a long time.

That same day she received good news about a temporary residency permit and soon realised that God had always wanted her to be where she now is.

“He really wants me to be ordained and this was the pathway he gave me,” she said.

Ms Thangadurai’s parents, her sister Selena, and Thomas will join her here for the first time to witness and celebrate her ordination.

Aptly, it will also be 16 years to the day she first arrived in Australia.

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